William Smith, a leader in Lexington's black community, died

jwarren@herald-leader.comOctober 9, 2013 

William ÒBillÓ Smith died Tuesday October 8, 2013. He was the son of the late Reverend T H and Helen Smith. One of his grade school teachers remarked that his early life ambition was to become a Òcountry preacher.Ó This would seem fitting since his father, two uncles and three brothers were preachers. Photo Provided

William Smith, a leader in Lexington's black community for more than half a century who served on the city housing authority and helped build an integrated YMCA program here, died Monday. He was 83.

Austin Simms, executive director of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Housing Authority, called Mr. Smith a "one-man gang, pouring all of his energy into giving African-American kids their first camping experience, involving them in sporting events, leadership clubs and social activities."

But Simms said Mr. Smith always remained a quiet leader, content to work in the background to bring about progress and change.

"He was always trying to help people, and he was active right up until his death," Simms said.

William Henry Smith was born Jan. 27, 1930, a son of the late Rev. T.H. and Helen Smith. His early ambition apparently was to be a preacher, but life took him down other paths.

After graduating from Lexington's old Dunbar High School, he enrolled at Indiana University. Mr. Smith graduated after a two-year interruption for service in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, then planned to be a teacher. But the YMCA became his focus.

Simms recalled that he was in fourth grade when he first met Mr. Smith, who was then visiting Lexington's inner-city schools, trying to get black children interested in joining the YMCA.

Mr. Smith became involved in the Y in the 1950s, when it was still segregated and Lexington's black YMCA branch operated out of a building with two pool tables, two desks and two rooms.

Mr. Smith helped transform the operation into a facility with a three-story dormitory, a gym, an Olympic-size pool and a library.

Mr. Smith later became associate general director of the YMCA in Central Kentucky. Before retiring in 1991, he helped organize the YMCA Black Achievers in Lexington.

Mr. Smith also played many other roles.

He was named to the housing authority's board of commissioners in 1972 by then-Mayor Foster Pettit. He was reappointed over the years by mayors Jim Amato, Scotty Baesler and Pam Miller, eventually serving on the board for 29 years. He became vice chairman, and later chairman of the board.

Mr. Smith was active at Lexington's Shiloh Baptist Church for 75 years, serving as the Sunday school superintendent for more than 40 years and as a trustee for more than 30 years.

When Shiloh constructed an education building in 1979, Mr. Smith headed a campaign that paid off the mortgage 10 years ahead of schedule.

Mr. Smith also was a founding member of the Community Kitchen and the Lexington Clergy Campaign for the Homeless. He was a volunteer coordinator for the Job Corps, worked for Opportunity Workshop, and was involved in numerous other community groups and efforts.

He helped organize the Black Church Coalition of the Bluegrass in 1983 and served as treasurer of the coalition for many years.

Mr. Smith is survived by his wife, Virginia; three sons; four grandchildren; a sister and a brother.

Funeral services will be at 1 p.m. Saturday at Shiloh Baptist Church. There will be two visitations at the church: from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, and from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. Burial will be in the Lexington Cemetery.

Arrangements are being handled by Smith and Smith Funeral Home.

Jim Warren (859) 231-3255. Twitter: @heraldleader

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